Two Men Poached a Moose in Denali National Park, Then Abandoned the Meat Because They Were Scared of Bears

The brothers-in-law said they didn't realize they had entered the park, but later denied the incident when questioned by law enforcement
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A bull moose in a field in Denali National Park.
While hunting in the Denali National Preserve is legal, hunting in the national park is not. Photograph by Iva / Adobe Stock

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Alaska handed down a sentence Wednesday for two men who poached a bull moose inside the Denali National Park boundary in September 2021 — in view of three separate groups of witnessing hunters.

Andrew McDonald of Harrisburg, South Dakota, and Christopher Brumwell of Anchorage were both convicted of one count of misdemeanor unlawful transport of illegally taken wildlife. As part of a plea agreement, they now must cough up $10,000 each and are under probation for four years, which means no hunting until 2028 in any state. The incident occurred during McDonald’s first hunt, according to court documents obtained by Outdoor Life; Brumwell grew up hunting and had hunted moose in Alaska once before. McDonald’s family accompanied the duo to camp for a weekend trip, which quickly turned into a “literal nightmare,” as Brumwell’s attorney put it.

The three groups of hunters each separately reported McDonald and Brumwell to the National Park Service after witnessing McDonald shoot the moose illegally. Both McDonald and Brumwell were carrying the necessary licenses at the time, but they had wandered roughly 600 yards into the park without apparently realizing it. When McDonald shot the moose, it stood less than 1,000 yards inside the park boundary. (While hunting inside Denali National Preserve is legal, hunting inside the national park is not.)

“Mr. McDonald and Mr. Brumwell knew they were close to the park boundary where they could not hunt, but did not think they were actually hunting in the prohibited area,” an addendum to the plea agreement reads. “They could have been more careful and avoided all of this, but again, hindsight is 20/20 and they cannot change the past.”

The men skinned the moose skull for a European mount and hiked out about 120 pounds of meat between the two of them, all of which they cached near the park boundary. The next day, the NPS contacted the men about the witness reports while the group was still at camp. McDonald denied having shot the moose at first, a move that his attorney chalks up to “buck fever” and “fatigue” in sentencing documents. But eventually both men confessed. 

The NPS instructed the men to pack the rest of the meat out to be turned over to park rangers. But when Brumwell, McDonald, and McDonald’s wife returned to the kill site, they discovered that a bear had gotten into the meat and rendered most of it unusable. They left the scene without extracting anything, fearful of coming across the offending bear.

“Mr. McDonald had never hunted a moose before. He does not live in Alaska. He has a natural fear of bears like most people do,” McDonald’s attorney writes. “Mr. McDonald and his companion ultimately chose to be safe rather than risk being attacked by a bear to salvage the meat that remained at the kill site.”

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When park rangers returned to the kill site the next day, they extracted 70 pounds of meat from the moose, which was donated to local food shelters along with the meat Brumwell and McDonald had originally hiked out with the skull. An animal that usually yields upwards of 500 pounds of meat yielded less than 200 pounds, due to the bear activity.

The court initially rejected the mens’ plea agreements in Oct. 2023, calling them too lenient. But additional character witnesses and advocacy from their lawyers led to the court accepting the agreement on Feb. 21.